Between 1983 and 1986, Raivo Kelomees, together with several artists associated with the Tartu University Art Cabinet, created around 30 actions, happenings and events in and around Tartu. Raivo described all of these as “conscious artistic activity,” which was planned, scripted, photographed and recorded. Raivo cites influences such as John Cage, Moscow Conceptualism, and even a text that was available to them at that time: Walter Aue, Projekte. Concepte & Aktionen, which discussed video and conceptual art from the 1960s and 1970s.
One of the performances was instigated by art collector Matti Milius, and involved the participants writing the names of people who were not in his collection on small pieces of white paper and leaving them in the park. Many of the events involved instructions, and quite often the participants would go from instruction to instruction, not knowing what was coming next. For example, one piece started at in the Art Cabinet. Participants were given pieces of paper and instructions as to how to construct a cube from the paper. Then, they went to the railway station, where they were instructed to place their cubes in the luggage storage lockers and lock them away. The artist described this as something “on the edge of the allowed and the forbidden.” In general, these actions did not arouse suspicion, and no one complained about the actions. This is perhaps because of the fact that Tartu was somewhat removed from the capital city. A thriving university town, it could be that the level of tolerance for artistic experiment was just slightly greater.
In 1986, in an action inspired by John Cage, the artist unraveled a large roll of white paper through the streets and squares of Tartu, creating an impromptu design with the cityscape as his canvas.
Raivo told me that the possibility of creating these events was exciting, as it offered him the chance to break out of his comfort zone and “build a parallel world.”